Birthdays. Everyone has em, and occasionally people celebrate them too. But did you know that someone outside your circle of family and friends cares about your birthday too? If you guessed your roommate or significant other you’re pretty close, its multi-million dollar gaming companies! Somewhere in all those forms you had to fill out to sign up for Playstation Network/Club Nintendo/Xbox Live Rewards you had to give up your date of birth. But instead of using it for nefarious data-collecting means like I assume most companies do, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft use this information to send a happy birthday reminder to your email with a little present to go alongside it. Its a nice show of kindness that you don’t see from most companies, which we are now going to immediately ruin by rating which company sends the best/worst gifts. To rate these presents I’m going to do it the only way I know how: compare each company to a relative or family member of similar gift-giving skill. First up:

Starting in 2012, Playstation began yearly birthday gifts by sending each of their players a download code for a virtual birthday cake in Playstation Home. This was fantastic for the 10 people that played Playstation Home, a sort of virtual social hub that was exclusive to the PS3. While Playstation Home may have died off towards the end of the PS3 lifecycle, I’ll never forget when I invited my friend over to my virtual apartment to see my virtual birthday cake before breaking into the running man emote for about 5 minutes. It was the best birthday I had in awhile.

Realizing that maybe not everyone cares about Playstation Home as much as they do, Playstation stopped sending out codes for the virtual cake at the end of 2014 and began 2015 off with something different: Papercraft Playstation characters. 6 different characters were available for you to make, including Sackboy, Parappa the Rapper and a Kratos that realizes he’s made from papercraft and isn’t too happy about it.

Even if it took a little more effort than typing in a download code, it was nice seeing a papercraft version of new and old characters. Except Playstation skipped out on my birthday that year and never sent me an email. What gives Sony? Think you’re too high and mighty to send me free stuff out of your own goodwill? Thankfully all these papercraft characters and their instructions are still available on Playstation’s website. I had a go at making Parappa and he turned out alright. Except his legs are the wrong way round. And he’s missing his arms.

2016 saw the return of download codes from Playstation, but no virtual cakes were on the horizon this time. Instead Playstation handed out a free theme named “Tales From Utopia” which was seemingly based on what dropping acid at a zoo looks like. Even if psychedelic imagery isn’t your thing, the only way to acquire this theme is to have Sony gift it to you, making it slightly rarer than some of the other birthday gifts.

Even if Playstation doesn’t show up every year baring gifts, when they do its appreciated.

RELATIVE RATING: UNCLE THAT LIVES ABROAD

2007 saw Nintendo gift 50 stars to club Nintendo members celebrating their birthdays. These stars could be used to redeem goodies in the star catalog, things like Pikmin plushies or Mario-themed notebooks that were exclusive to Club Nintendo members. However, since all of the decent prizes are 1000+ stars, it felt more like Nintendo was handing you some pocket change and making a big deal about it. People shrugged their shoulders and moved on, which Nintendo mistook as people actually liking their gift and so gave everybody another 50 stars in 2008. And 2009. And 2010. In fact, right up until just recently in 2016 when Club Nintendo closed down in September, they had still been gifting out 50 stars every year. This means if you were a member since 2007, you might have actually been able to buy something substantial.

Now that My Nintendo has taken Club Nintendo’s place, members are being sent wallpapers and discount codes for Nintendo’s E-Shop. Nintendo may have a disappointing history of gifts, but hey, at least they were consistent.

RELATIVE RATING: GRANDPARENT THAT NEVER FORGETS TO SEND YOU A CARD

Considering I had an Xbox 360 for about 6 months before it broke and I went back to playing my PS3, I didn’t expect much from them. But even low expectations can be too much sometimes like in 2013, when Xbox gifted each of their Xbox Live Rewards members 20 Microsoft points. This may sound similar to the Nintendo/Star situation last section, but the key difference is that Stars could not be bought with money, but Microsoft points could. Xbox had just given you 20 cent. “Don’t spend it all in one place!” you can hear Xbox say. To top off this fabulous present, Xbox discontinued Microsoft points later that year essentially erasing their own gift.

2014 saw Microsoft go back to the drawing board and come back with something that gaming companies seem to love giving out: Cakes. Only this one wasn’t virtual and required more arts n crafts with a hint of social media.
“Just print it out, follow the instructions, and snap a picture with the completed cake. Then, tweet the picture to us at @XboxLiveRewards along with the hashtag #XboxLiveRewardsBirthday so we can personally wish you a happy birthday!” read the instructions. I could not think of something sadder than someone building this makeshift cake just to get a “happy birthday” from the XboxLiveRewards twitter account. I tweeted my completed cake at the XboxLiveRewards twitter account and they didn’t respond, so I can confirm that there is indeed something sadder.

Disappointed by the lack of social media reach that the cake had, Microsoft stepped up their game in 2015 by gifting selfie frames that users could take pictures in and then tweet to the Xbox Live Rewards account with the hashtag #XboxLiveRewardsBirthday. “They may not have shared the cake, but no-ones going to take a picture in a selfie frame and not share it!” cackled Microsoft, perhaps missing the point of what giving a gift is about. Throughout the first half of 2015, the hashtag #XboxLiveRewardsBirthday was filled with 10% of people posting pictures in the selfie frames with the other 90% of people annoyed at receiving such a pointless gift. By the time my birthday rolled around and I was supposed to receive these selfie frames, Xbox had shut down the selfie frames part of their website and there was no mention of them in the birthday email whatsoever.

Throwing in the towel, Microsoft gifted players a chart of their statistics over the past year for 2016. I haven’t played Xbox since 2013, but according to the chart I’ve earned 5 achievements and they’ve all been in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Whoever has hacked my account, you can keep it.

(Bonus deduction for also being the only company to send each birthday email at the start of your birth month instead of on your actual birthday)

RELATIVE RATING: COUSIN THAT BUYS YOU A GIFT YOU DIDN’T REALLY WANT AND TURNS OUT THEY ONLY BOUGHT IT SO THEY CAN COME OVER TO YOUR HOUSE TO PLAY WITH IT

And that is it for comparing gaming companies to family members. If you also like humanizing corporate PR strategies, hit me up. We can pretend dogs can talk or something.